Fernando Hierro will lead Spain into the World Cup after the shock sacking of Julen Lopetegui on the eve of the tournament – but admits he cannot make any changes before the finals get under way.
Lopetegui was dramatically axed on Wednesday, throwing Spain’s preparations into turmoil given they open their campaign with a Group B clash against Portugal on Friday. Read our reaction here.
Following Tuesday’s announcement Lopetegui would leave to take over at Real Madrid after the finals in Russia, Spanish Football Federation president Luis Rubiales decided to remove him from his post – and received the backing of former Spain international Xavi.
Rubiales had been riled by being told of Lopetegui’s decision to take the Real job just five minutes before it was made public.
Former Spain captain Hierro will now step across from his role as director of football to lead the national team though the World Cup.
The ex-Real Madrid defender knows he can have little influence on the way the team is prepared to enter the tournament but will do the best he can with the hand he has been dealt.
“It is a nice challenge and an exciting one,” he told reporters at a press conference in Krasnador.
“The circumstances are what they are and from now on I accept the responsibility bravely, it can’t be any other way.
“We have a group of players who have been together for two years to work towards the World Cup and I have been sporting director, so I understand the motivation is huge.
“We cannot alter two years of hard work in the coming days – from now until the Portugal match, we don’t have the ability to change much.
“They key is to change as little as possible. We cannot change anything in two days.”
Earlier in the day, Spain delayed a press conference at the same venue by well over an hour before Rubiales announced he had dismissed Lopetegui – pointing the finger of blame at Real Madrid, rather than the outgoing coach.
“We have been forced to dispense with the national coach. We wish him the best of luck,” he said.
“I don’t want to get into how Real Madrid should go about things. The Spanish team is the team of all Spain.
“If it had been up to Julen it wouldn’t have happened in this way and I wouldn’t have found out five minutes beforehand.”
Former Barcelona great Xavi was full of praise for the swift actions of Rubiales – who was only appointed as president last month.
“Lopetegui’s decision, for me, was inopportune, unexpected and rushed,” he told Marca.
“It was a surprise to everyone, but Rubiales reacted really well. He’s looked at the RFEF, which must always be above any one person.”